Bridging the Gap Between Christian Beliefs and the Benefits of Yoga
Hello readers and followers. I know that yoga is a controversial topic in the church and I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the subject. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but perhaps give you another perspective. Ultimately, follow God and your heart.
My Personal Yoga Journey
Around 8 years into teaching Christian meditation and creating CDs, my interest in a Christian form of yoga sparked. I stumbled upon it after attending an online workshop with the creator of Praise Moves, the Christian alternative to yoga. I later undertook the training and began teaching in a local church and independently. Praise Moves, akin to yoga, altered the names of most postures to reflect a more neutral or Christ-centered approach.
It was a practice that invoked a sense of being in God’s presence, and I relished teaching it. However, as I taught more, I yearned to delve deeper into the anatomy and science behind yoga. The training for Praise Moves entailed a weekend’s worth of instruction, some handbooks, a dvd, and in my opinion, didn’t delve sufficiently into the mechanics behind it. As a teacher, I deemed it crucial to possess a specific skill set to instruct effectively and prevent injuries.
After a few years, I opted for a 200-hour Christian yoga training. I must admit that this training, which encompassed a lengthy online curriculum and 2 weeks of in-person instruction, proved to be one of the most pivotal decisions for my personal and spiritual growth. It didn’t feel like a yoga training at all, but more akin to a Christian spiritual boot camp, a novel experience for me. It was equally awe-inspiring to witness the transformation of fellow students throughout those two weeks. Many arrived with negative mindsets and a plethora of inner pain and wounds, only to depart as New Creations in Christ. It undeniably stands as one of the most enriching experiences of my life, greatly contributing to a deeper connection with God.
All Yoga Isn’t the Same
An array of yoga types exists. There’s beer yoga, reggae yoga, face yoga, along with more traditional forms. As a Christian, I acknowledge that there are types of yoga I do not recommend. Kundalini yoga, for instance, involves invoking a snake-like serpent within your spine, which constitutes a highly religious practice. However, most other types of yoga are benign and largely foster our mental, emotional, and physical health. There’s no need to discard the practice altogether, especially when yoga can be engaged in devoid of religious affiliations, irrespective of one’s faith.
My Concerns with Yoga-to-Christian Converts
When I listen to those who have transitioned from decrying the dangers of yoga to becoming Christian converts advocating against it, I’ll be honest, it perturbs me. As I hear their stories, one thing stands out—their deep involvement in yoga, as well as other new age or occult practices. These aren’t your standard yoga classes; these new converts were immersed in ancient yoga philosophy, at times inviting unfamiliar spirits, witchcraft, and the like. Some were even tormented by demons. I can assure you, it wasn’t the run-of-the-mill yoga at 24 Hour Fitness that ensnared them.
They sought their identity in yoga and new age practices, not in Jesus Christ. As I mentioned earlier, there are certain yoga practices that Christians may want to avoid. If you attend a yoga class where the teacher chants in Sanskrit or includes rituals that make you uncomfortable, leave and don’t return. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. Out of the hundreds of yoga classes I’ve attended, there were only two or three that I found a bit excessive.
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into all truth. Seek Him for guidance. Just because someone has been saved for six months doesn’t make them an authority on Christian living. This comes from years of growth and maturity, not just zealousness. You can practice yoga without embracing a yoga philosophy, much like you can attend church for years without being born again.
There Are Worse Things Than Yoga
Truth be told, there are numerous activities that can hinder, corrupt, and jeopardize your walk with Christ. Every day, we make choices about what we listen to, the movies we watch, the music on Spotify, the books we read—each of which can either positively or negatively impact our walk and relationship with God. In the past decade, television programs have become increasingly disheartening. It’s nearly impossible to find a TV show that isn’t sexualized or pushing some kind of agenda. And what about social media?
I can’t think of a platform more detrimental to our Christian values, family structure, self-esteem, and overall morality than what we encounter on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and the like. Even within these platforms, we can find informative, uplifting, and valuable content, but we must sift through it and choose. Nonetheless, I believe we’re losing generations of young people to this obsessive preoccupation with their phones and technology. How many Christians, though, have discarded their televisions or tossed away their phones?
Instead, those who aim to safeguard their purity with God judiciously select programs, shows, movies, and music that uplift their spirits rather than tear them down. Yoga offers a myriad of benefits, even for Christians. Due to a few varieties that contradict their faith or due to fear-based teachings from those in authority who have never even set foot in a yoga class, some demonize the entire practice.
Yoga promotes mental, emotional, and physical well-being, which, in my opinion, is much more wholesome than many of the distractions we face today. Given the choice between my children practicing yoga and being glued to their phones all day, I’d opt for yoga. It not only benefits their bodies but also cultivates a greater sense of inner peace, allowing them to connect more deeply with God and themselves, rather than being tossed about by every whim of the media, the world, and its tentacles.
Yoga is Actually Good for You
I find it amusing when people talk about the dangers of yoga, because I know that the majority of these concerns aren’t based in reality. When you’re in a Vinyasa (Flow) Yoga class, the last thing on your mind is some Hindu god deceiving you and taking over your body. Instead, your thoughts lean towards, “this is challenging,” “wow, I’m tired,” “I need to keep up,” and “I’ll be glad when this is over.” The best part of yoga, for me, is the end of class when you lie there, resting after a rigorous and active workout.
Most yoga classes today emphasize health and fitness, providing a serious workout that even the most robust athlete would find challenging. Depending on the type of yoga, it can almost feel like a party, with loud and upbeat music playing in the background. There’s nothing religious about it, unless you choose to pay homage to the gods of exercise.
In addition to the more traditional yoga styles (Vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Hatha) you can pretty much find every type of yoga under the sun, such as beer yoga, face yoga, reggae yoga, hip hop yoga, Afro yoga, Kemetic or Egyptian yoga, art and yoga, and Christian yoga, to name a few. Other types of yoga promote relaxation, like Yin or Restorative, helping to relieve anxiety, trauma, and stress. Still others emphasize strength and flexibility, like Hatha. Yoga has become trendy and is practiced in both traditional and non-traditional ways. Ask a true Hindu yogi about what the West has done to yoga, and you’ll discover that they’ve given it a complete makeover, making it almost unrecognizable to its ancient counterpart.
When it Comes to Yoga, Intention is Everything
Some may argue that the origins of yoga are rooted in Hinduism, and that each posture worships over 300 Hindu gods. Maybe so, but I’m not a Hindu—I am a Christian, and my love and allegiance are to our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the scriptures say in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that an idol is not anything and to pay no attention to them.
If we as Christians truly believed that we were dishonoring God by participating in such practices, we would never eat at an Asian restaurant. Nearly every Asian restaurant features a statue of Buddha or some other god prominently displayed in a visible location. I wonder if, when they are cooking the food, it isn’t being made in honor of their religion and gods. But that doesn’t seem to deter Christians from dining there.
Intention is everything. That’s why the Bible says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.“(Colossians 3:23-24). We have liberty in Christ according to Galatians 5:1 and Romans 14:16-23 declares, “Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.” Many times while doing yoga, I am continually saying to myself, “Thank you, Jesus” because I am so grateful for this time or respite and to feel His presence within me.
For a lot of Christians who practice yoga, it brings us a peace and calm that can ultimately lead to greater joy and a deeper relationship with Christ. Our practice helps us to clear out the mental distractions and make more room for His presence. And let’s face it, negativity, depression, anxiety, stress, and fear plague Christians just like anyone else. If we aren’t controlling our thoughts, then they are controlling us and practices like Christian meditation and yoga, help to bring awareness to our inner dialogue giving us an opportunity to bring those thoughts captive and renew our minds.
Some also argue that the origin of yoga is the only deterrent needed to avoid the practice, often stating that just doing yoga poses (intentionally or not) opens us up to demonic spirits. If I am in my backyard gardening and I bend forward (standing forward bend pose), am I at that moment worshiping a Hindu god? Or maybe I reach my arms above my head to take the clothes off the line (extended mountain pose). Am I inadvertently worshiping a mountain god? It sounds absurd.
Just like sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian, neither does doing a yoga pose denote worshipping other gods. Some might argue, well, you could be exposing or opening yourself up to evil. But evil is everywhere, all around us. Your Christian yoga class is probably one of the safest places you can be in the world, especially while practicing yoga as unto the Lord.
What Can We Replace Yoga With?
Yoga is the only exercise that promotes the mind, body, and spirit connection, especially in the slower types where you hold poses for longer periods of time. Yoga allows us to slow down, to connect with our bodies, and to quiet our minds. Walk into your average gym and the music is blaring or people are on their headphones. Their bodies might be moving, but their minds are still engaged, distracted, and completely disconnected from their minds and bodies.
Yoga is also known for its ability to reduce anxiety and stress, as well as to release trauma from our bodies. We hold our issues in our tissues. Through slow movement and holding poses, we release accumulated stress and emotional blocks. Through the deep breathing aspect of yoga, we calm and regulate our nervous system. It also improves our focus and cognitive function by its ability to quiet our minds and hence, bring every thought captive, as the scriptures say. It’s often referred to as the ABCs: A stands for action or movement, B equals breath, and C is cognition. All three together create a powerful force for inner and outer healing, which has been documented by science and numerous studies.
Some Christians say, get rid of yoga, but what are you going to replace it with? There are only so many ways to move the body. I guess you can change the name of the practice to something like Stretch and Flow, or even change the names of the postures, but why go through all that trouble? Just practice yoga as unto the Lord with a desire to use the practice to create a deeper connection with Him as well as benefit your body. In fact, I can teach an entire yoga class without naming any pose at all.
Most yoga consists of exercises that promote flexibility, stretching, and strength and in no way resemble the pretzel-like figures you might see on Google. Most people can’t even do those, unless you’re a 10-year-old boy. I’ve had Christians come to my classes because their doctors suggested they take up yoga for stress, high blood pressure, or other illnesses, and most come literally afraid. But afterwards I always hear the same four words, “That was just stretching,” and now they are hooked because of how good they feel in their minds and bodies.
God Has Not Given Us a Spirit of Fear
It is important to remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear. As we approach the practice of yoga, we can do so with confidence, knowing that we are guided by the Holy Spirit. We are called to exercise discernment and to hold fast to our faith, recognizing that our intentionality in practice is what truly matters. By embracing yoga as a means of nurturing our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, we align ourselves with a path that can lead to greater communion with God.
We as Christians should use discernment when it comes to yoga. I would never recommend taking a Kundalini yoga class because that is a very religious form of yoga and most Christians wouldn’t even feel comfortable in such a class.
However, yoga has so many wonderful benefits, not only for our physical bodies, especially as we age, but for our mental health and spiritual connection as well. So many Christians live in a very mind-centered and legalistic way of Christianity, but the Bible says that the letter kills but the spirit gives life. We need a balance, to know God’s word but to experience His presence as well.
It is only through entering into the closet, our inner domain, and becoming still (be still and know that I am God), that we become intimately acquainted with God. There are many ways to do this, art, gardening, walking, to name a few, but I believe yoga also provides an intention for cultivating this inner awareness, where some other activities may not. Even a walk can be a mental exercise if you don’t have an intention to calm your thoughts and fellowship in God’s presence. Yoga often creates a structure or context for going there.
The bottom line is do your research and test the spirits, to see if they are of God. You can practice yoga in a way that completely honors God and is in alignment with your Christian faith. Don’t let fear get in the way of your liberty and demonizing a practice that could potentially strengthen your walk, as it has for so many other Christians. Let the Holy Spirit guide you.
If you live in the Sacramento area and looking for a Christ-Centered yoga class, CLICK HERE. If you are a Christian yoga teacher check out my Christ-Centered teacher’s manual, No Prep Christian Yoga Plans.